Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: September 2018
Wednesday, 19 September 2018 10:43

The Donald, the Deegong and their diversions

ONE can’t help comparing lately the performance of Presidents Trump and Duterte. The US economy in the second quarter is doing great with its 4.1 percent growth and 3.9 percent employment rate. And some manufacturing jobs benefiting Trump’s political base have been coming back.

On the other hand, Philippine economic growth projected for 2018 is relatively steady at 6.7 percent and employment rates have gone down to 5.4 percent in the second quarter. Inflation, though high, is manageable. According to Cielito Habito (PDI, September 11, 2018) these are solid numbers that should give relief.

But Trump and DU30 have been fixated by matters that distract both from what are important and could have been passed on as “feel-good” narratives, driving positive news cycles in the two countries.

Trump, besieged by the investigation into the collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia that undermined the 2016 election and his legitimacy, can’t seem to extract himself from his daily tweets on the subject. And lately an op-ed article in the New York Times written by an anonymous top government official, possibly within his coterie, claiming a “resistance group” in the White House, has driven him to paranoia. His state of mind has impelled him to make careless decisions on government policies.

Meanwhile in Manila, a series of episodes has triggered a media firestorm displacing both dire and good economic news from the headlines. Senator Trillanes baited the President by calling for a Senate investigation into two of his ardent and loyal functionaries: the alleged unethical anomalous government contracts of a security company owned by Solicitor General Calida; and the alleged preferential treatment of the family of Davao billionaire Bong Go with government construction contracts. Both reek of possible corruption. The President, who puts a premium on loyalty, responded in character and took the bait.

SolGen Calida, perhaps to pre-empt the Senate investigations, dug some dirt on the senator and found evidence alleging that the senator, who was imprisoned for years for fomenting a failed coup d’état, was anomalously absolved and freed by his patron, former president PNoy. Amnesty Proclamation 75 in 2010 was defective ab initio, the SolGen claimed. It will be recalled that the same strategy was successfully used by Calida to boot out Chief Justice Sereno, on somewhat similar grounds.

Subsequently, DU30’s Proclamation 572 revoking PNoy’s Proclamation 75 was signed. Trillanes was to be arrested while the President was conveniently abroad, confident perhaps that the execution would be flawless without the proverbial “s**t hitting the fan.” But as it turned out, indeed, it did!

The Deegong was singularly impulsive in confronting his bete noire, Trillanes, in a zero-sum game, when the prudent strategy would have been to emulate President Cory’s class act against her VP Doy Laurel in 1987 — brush him off like an irritant fly. Instead, the Deegong had to indulge Trillanes who was more than happy to regain the limelight, revitalized the yellow army and newly gained adherents. In trying to reverse an amnesty on a whim, a precedent was established that could produce a chilling effect on ex-military coup plotters and rebels who came back to the fold of the law.

Both the Donald and the Deegong are faced with mid-term elections that are traditionally a referendum on their watch and could alter the power dynamics that could be noxious for both. In the US, the Democrats could capture the majority in Congress, endangering the Republicans’ hold on the Senate. This could lead to the impeachment of Trump.

Ordinary citizens can’t help but wonder, why President Duterte had to act impetuously. He needs to refocus on the challenges confronting the country today in a more circumspect and sensible manner. And problems are piling up. For one, it is not too late for the President to mitigate the high inflation rates with the help of Congress and the recalibration of his economic policies. We also have a dangerously depleted rice buffer to feed the population during anticipated destructive typhoons that could wipe out our palay granaries in the north, not to mention the displacement of large segments of population along the path of these recurring disasters. These are immediate problems demanding immediate solutions.

There is however one single issue to be addressed before the mid-term elections that could change the profile of the second half of his administration.

His cherished agenda to revise the 1987 Cory Constitution rests on the whims of a recalcitrant Senate to dance to his Cha-cha tune. A two-thirds vote of the Senate is needed to reconstitute Congress into a constituent assembly to revise the Constitution. This mid-term election presents an opportunity for him to alter the incoming Senate profile. The usual method which DU30 is wont to do is to put up his own candidates to do his bidding. However, those in his initial stable of candidates for the Senate, while true loyalists, are mostly dull personalities, in contrast to what the Filipino voters have been used to — traditional politicians with branded names, actors, comedians and celebrities.

He may have to rely on the experienced, winnable, second-termer senators brazenly allied with PDP Laban, his party that he allowed to fragment. But this could turn out to be a pact with the devil. These traditional politicians are not that dependable, and the President may find himself and his agenda hostage to their whims.

But applying his vaunted powers now and the billions of pork at his disposable, he may yet creatively buy his way to Charter revisions by changing drastically the profile of the incoming Senate. He may have to apply the old Marcosian formula: “…use persuasion as the default mode, buy them off, if the first approach is ineffective, add intimidation as a clencher. If all fails, terminate….” The last alternative of course is totally unacceptable in a democratic and morally driven society.

Often, the second step is enough. Under this dysfunctional unitary presidential system and traditional political practices, these people are cheap before election. And expensive after they sit in office.

Thus, a fallback position for the Deegong must be negotiated. Short of Charter revision, he can opt for real political reforms. Among the most critical: a) the political party and government subsidy; b) passage of freedom of information act, both still pending in both chambers; c) real electoral reforms to address vote-buying and the perversion of the electoral process; and d) an iron-clad guarantee to pass an anti-political dynasty act. (TMT column, August 8, 2018)

Charter revisions and the shift to a federal-parliamentary system inexorably dislodged from the priority of importance by the myopic exigencies of the election cycle should now be relegated as long-term targets, awaiting the second half of DU30’s term and beyond.

But his success on this medium-term endeavor will mark DU30 as a true stateman while he bides his time shaping and clearing the way for his avatar and heir apparent Sara. All these are on the assumption, of course, that no drastic alternative revolutionary ideas will intervene before midterm.
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 12 September 2018 11:07

The Deegong’s health: Its implications

LATELY speculations have been rife as to the health of DU30. Social media has been inundated by rumors on the purpose of his recent trip: “Why is Duterte in Israel? Why is his schedule full of big holes? Is he there for medical treatment? Why are the details under wraps?”

The national conversation has deteriorated to a point where rumor and innuendo gain more currency than actual news. But such is the nature of gossips. They have more traction. They are simply salacious and easier to spread from mouth to mouth. These normally start with tidbits of truth and, depending on which side of the issue you belong to or are comfortable with, one adds a tier of prevarication or “unverifiable truth,” spreading this out, seducing others to chip in by coating another layer, and so on and so forth.

Social media has opened channels to every Tom, Dick and Harriet to vent their views on the public with nary a concern for “the truth.” This liberating power needs only an internet connection and suitable apps.

Lately items have proliferated dissecting the Deegong’s“pale, gaunt skin texture,” irregular public exposures and irritable demeanor. Even his close supporters claim to notice the same, jumping to the conclusion that indeed, the President must be sick. It’s the old “liver problem,” they surmise. And the old rumors of his taking small doses of the opioid fentanyl as a pain reliever have again been revived. All these really are, in the colorful language of the president, “just plain b____t”.

It seems to me that there are several factions feverishly involved in this deadly game of rumors and social media inaccuracies. There are those who are not happy with this regime and are identifiable as the opposition which includes the yellow army and the remnants of the old cabal of PNoy, the LP and other political parties, decimated by the earlier raids of the PDP Laban.

Another bloc is the rabid Deegong loyalists faithfully carrying the torch for his political agenda and the defenders of whatever he stands for — from the deadly war against illegal drugs to his ambiguous anti-corruption fight to a bastardized version of federalism. The latter is toxic because of the propagation of a myth that only Duterte alone and only within his watch can federalization be realized; thus, this frantic effort to put this half-cooked version in place prematurely.

An adjunct to this group is the disgruntled Duterte election campaign workers who were left out in the cold, without government appointments or rewarded sinecures in corporate boards. They are not as acrimonious as the yellow army but won’t mind chastising the president in their own perverted way.

These factions have raised this game of rumor-mongering to a dangerous level. The “antis,” convinced that the Deegong’s health is deteriorating fast and may not last the mid-term, have accelerated their attacks in all media, precipitating the near-desperate move of Duterte’s minions in the Comelec and government bureaucracy to enforce a different protocol to get Bongbong into the line of succession, shunting aside Leni Robredo.

A twist to this scenario is that the President’s allies have anticipated this all along and have in fact disingenuously positioned GMA, a hard-nosed politician, to be the Deegong’s handmaiden in pursuit of the next phase of a pragmatic political agenda — the mentoring of his heir apparent, Sara.

The permutations are intricate. One yellow army thread calculates DU30 can’t depend on the military to do his bidding despite his seeding the bureaucracy with appointed generals, colonels and assorted officers. So, the narrative flow is that he will have to rely on his old leftist comrades, those outside of Joma Sison’s coterie, nurtured by him while he was the Davao mayor, to stand as “shock troops.” Meantime, he will have to neutralize experienced coup plotters like Trillanes and his erstwhile special forces comrades by incarceration or by other means.

All these because Deegong is perceived to look, pale, frail and sickly!

For heaven’s sake, the President is not that sick! There is no incontrovertible proof that he is. He may be weakening as gleaned from his own statements and the knee-jerk denial of his spokesman, but the man is 74 years old. He will not give up his seat for Bongbong, Leni or Chiz. He has been riding on the tiger’s back to dismount safely. He loves power too much to give it all up.

This quarrel between the pro and anti DU30 is beginning to irritate a larger group comprising most of the citizens who are neither identified with the yellow army or the DDS/fist pumpers. This group has neither the inclination to hate or love the Deegong. But neither are they neutral too in the political conflicts. They are not categorized as “the undecided,” as they have made their decision in favor of the country. They too have a stake in its welfare but their concerns demanding simply good governance are being marginalized by the boisterous opposing factions.

What to me is closer to reality instead of these conjectures on the President’s health, fanciful scenarios and false narratives is that DU30’s vaunted political will may be on the wane. Where earlier in his regime, his impulses and brash language were taken as reflections of political will, as these were amplified by his two ranking mouthpieces in congress, Koko Pimentel and Bebot Alvarez. But these two are no longer there. They have been replaced by two charismatic leaders with solid bases of their own, not dependent on the Deegong’s. GMA and Sotto are his full partners, not subalterns.

With “political will” as it main impetus, federalism, as a flagship is similarly on its death throes, a victim of a conspiracy of the unelected. His appointed ConCom produced a document that his cabinet was permitted to mangle. It was revealed by some quarters that for the past 10 months, federalism was never even discussed seriously in a cabinet meeting.

NEDA stepped in with its 15-year roadmap only recently when it is by function the custodian of long-term programs. As a priority, NEDA should have taken the initiative from the very beginning to embrace it as its own. Either NEDA was not in tune with DU30’s agenda or it was allowed to sabotage this program; in which case the Deegong is complicit.

But all these are water under the bridge now that the political realities are in a flux. DU30 will have to sound the clarion call once more for his DDS/fist pumpers to assemble to get his selected candidates into elective positions this midterm, if he is to salvage what is left of his agenda and avoid being a lame duck. I doubt this time they will heed his call without the traditional enticements. And this could be tragic. It is almost a truism that Philippine polarizing presidents could end their term in perfectly good health – but find themselves incarcerated.
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 05 September 2018 11:23

Convoluted political parties

IN the coming days, midterm election matters will dominate center stage and out goes federalism from the airwaves, the mass and social media. This election will be a referendum on President Duterte. Corruption, human rights violations, drug killings, the incompetence of his men and even the unstable persona of the President himself will be exploited by the opposition to pummel the Deegong and his allies. Except that in our byzantine politics, alliances, friends and foes are intermingled and therefore many are at a loss as to their standing with the President.

Take the unelected DDS and Fist Pumpers whose loyalty to the President may have touched shaky ground lately as a result of his consigning federalism to the back-burner. They may have to reinsert themselves into the political conversation while pining for presidential attention. It seems that those left behind, although grudgingly supportive of him but not rewarded with government sinecures, may now have to extract their pound of flesh before being persuaded to campaign for the president’s choices. The Senate posts are particularly sensitive as the next fight for Charter revisions will be in that chamber, if ever the President still has the audacity to push through with it. DU30’s intermittent histrionics, however —“I’m tired…I want to resign” — weaken his supporters’ resolve and embolden the Yellow army and its allies. One begins to wonder where his vaunted “political will” is parked.

The ascendancy of GMA and pragmatic political maneuverings have begun to plague the President’s motley alliance. PDP Laban, DU30’s nominal party is seen to be fragmenting. The eclipse of its two top lieutenants, Koko Pimentel and Bebot Alvarez, occurred without the President lifting a finger. And the tolerated appearance of the splinter Davao-Mindanao PDP Laban in the political scene, challenging the legitimacy of the Pimentel-Alvarez leadership, has dealt a major though not fatal blow to the ruling party. Headed by Bik Bik Garcia, an original party stalwart and a colleague of Nene Pimentel — oppositionists both in the defunct Marcos Interim Batasan Pambansa (IBP) — they may have a legitimate complaint. The indiscriminate wholesale recruitment of “trapos” from other political parties run counter to the ideological precepts that the original PDP Laban hold dear. The true believers were shunted aside in the running of the political party, now dominated by the remnants and discards of LP, LDP, LAKAS-NUCD-CMD-KAMPI, UNA and assorted political mercenaries.

But what could be fatal is the ascendancy of Mayor Sara to prominence as head of the original local political party of the father. The President’s spokesman, Harry Roque Jr. declared that “Hugpong (ng Pagbabago), not PDP-Laban, is the President’s party. Hugpong had always been his political party ever since he ran for mayor of Davao City 23 years ago.” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, August 7, 2018) The cat is now out of the bag!

The 100 or so PDP Laban congressmen may have begun to abandon ship and secure their lifeboats with Hugpong. And a cloud of fear and insecurity may be descending on the PDP Laban nominees in government sinecures and the bureaucracy — Usecs, Asecs, department heads and government corporate boards.

But the Deegong seems not to be overwhelmed by these developments. His disciples attribute these to his political genius insisting that he may in fact be the puppeteer using his surrogates — GMA at the HOR and daughter Sara at Hugpong now working an alliance with Imee Marcos of KBL. But the ominous elevation of the Marcoses within DU30’s circle could signal the degradation of PDP Laban, as this party’s pedigree can be traced back to the darkest period of the dictatorship. The sycophants of course will dismiss this as mere conjecture.

In any case, in a unitary-presidential system, nurturing this traditional political climate, elections are merely opportunities for power players and their oligarchic allies to consolidate their forces and unscrupulous politicians to sell their loyalty to the highest bidder.

Senator Lacson has intimated that there are billions of pesos worth of “pork barrel” inserted into this year’s budget. In an election where a congressional seat would cost from P100-P200 million and a Senate seat at least P500 million, the Deegong has most of the chips while holding winning hands.

This is the system that causes legislators to flock to the party of the President, expecting entitlements, weakening the party system, systemic evils the Centrist Democrats have been agitating to reform all along as preconditions to a shift from the unitary to parliamentary federal system.

To encapsulate the issues, I will quote a PR practitioner and a political technocrat, Malou Tiquia: “In the past six years, no political reform has been successfully introduced in the country. Various measures are pending in congress, from political party to campaign finance reform to banning turncoats, etc. The effort to achieve reform in our politics has not taken root. This is the problem we have as we move towards federalism…”

I quote from one of my old blogs: “Political parties are key actors and the backbone of democracy in modern societies. They are organizations that aggregate the interests and sources behind policies. They gain power and authority by engaging in elections.

They serve as a linking and leading mechanism in politics being a means of mobilization of the masses as well as the socialization of leaders. Furthermore, political parties are a channel of control, without which citizens are not represented in governing institutions, cannot control power and participate in decision-making. Thus — in the long term — they cannot prevent the abuse of power.

A party must write a unique platform or vision of governance with a set of principles and strategies. This vision defines the ideological identity of that party; and members are expected to go by these platforms as political parties offer the direction of government. Voters must be given a choice as to who must govern them based on what candidates and their parties stand for.”

Unfortunately, we do not have such parties in our country. Ours are funded by self-proclaimed candidates, party bigwigs and oligarchs. They dictate what programs and platforms, if any, to present to voters and who would run for public office. Patronage politics is the reason behind the massive exodus of members from one political party to another. Political manna constantly flows from the incumbent regime and produces a condition where politicians are PDP Laban today, LP the past regime, Lakas-NUCD before that and KBL during the dictatorship. Tomorrow, they may flock toward Hugpong.
Published in LML Polettiques